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Spiced Cranberries for Holiday Cocktails

With two days to go until Christmas, I imagine most of us fall into one of two camps.

Half of us have already spent the weekend wrapping, packing, hustling, and traveling and are now comfortably snuggled on the couch, having already polished off half a cookie platter and nodding into the first catnap of the day.

spiced cranberry and bourbon cocktail
Photo: Casey Barber

The rest of us are still in a state of muddled frantic anticipation, slogging through that antsy zone where you can almost taste the thrill of doing nothing for a few days. . . .

That is, if you could just. cross. off. those last few errands, deadlines, piles of laundry, and nagging details on your list.

(Guess which of those scenarios applies to me, by the way?)

Regardless of which camp you’re in, my guess is that you wouldn’t refuse a cocktail right now. Yes, even at 10:30 am.

I’m looking at you, person who just ate half the cookie platter. Who are you to judge?

The spiced cranberries that are the star of this drink are festive enough for the entire holiday season.

spiced cranberries for holiday cocktails
Photo: Casey Barber

They can bridge the holiday week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and could even stretch back to Thanksgiving and be featured in a pre-dinner cocktail before the big meal.

They’ll certainly keep for a month in the refrigerator, so if you’re a careful planner, you can make a batch in November to last you until the ball drops in Times Square.

The cocktail itself is based on a drink called the Manitoba created by Master of Whiskey Gina Unverferth.

spiced cranberry and bourbon cocktail
Photo: Casey Barber

Muddling the lemon and cranberries together might be more labor-intensive than you’re used to, but the whole lemon rind and flesh brings a sweet hit of citrus that juice alone just can’t compete with, in my opinion.

If you’re more in a mojito mood, substitute lime and rum for the lemon and bourbon, and make it a tropical holiday on Christmas Island.

Either way, it’s a great excuse to use your bar tools.

spiced cranberries for holiday cocktails
Photo: Casey Barber

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat a heaping helping of kielbasa and sauerkraut and dig into my mom-in-law’s cookie platter.

Happy holidays from Good. Food. Stories.!

spiced cranberries
spiced cranberry and bourbon cocktail, via goodfoodstories.com

Spiced Cranberries and Bourbon Cocktail

Yield: 4 drinks
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

A festive bourbon cocktail, made with homemade spiced cranberries, captures the spirit of the holiday season.


Spiced Cranberries

  • 1 cup (200 grams; 7 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 or 4 whole allspice berries
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 6-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

For the Cocktail

  • 1/4 cup spiced cranberries plus extra cranberries for garnish
  • 1/4 cup spiced cranberry syrup
  • half a lemon, quartered, plus lemon twists or slices for garnish
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 2 cups (16 fluid ounces) ginger ale or ginger beer


Make the spiced cranberries:

  1. Place the sugar, water, cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, and peppercorns in a medium (1 1/2-2 quart) saucepan over medium-low heat.
  2. Bring the liquid to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. 
  3. Once bubbles start to form, add the cranberries and adjust the heat as necessary to keep the syrup at a low boil.
  4. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the cranberries begin to pop and split, then remove from the heat.
  5. Transfer to a heatproof jar and cool to room temperature before covering and storing in the refrigerator.
  6. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. 

Make the cocktail:

  1. Add ice to 4 highball or old fashioned glasses.
  2. Add the spiced cranberries, syrup, and lemon wedges to the mixing glass of a Boston shaker
  3. With a cocktail muddler or blunt base of a spatula, gently press on the fruits to release their juices.
  4. Add the bourbon and a generous handful of ice cubes to the cocktail shaker.
  5. Seal the shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
  6. Use the lip of the Boston shaker to strain the cocktail as you divide the cocktail between the glasses.
  7. Pour 1/2 cup ginger ale or ginger beer into each glass.
  8. Garnish with additional cranberries, lemon twists, and/or lemon slices as desired.
  9. Serve immediately.


You'll get approximately 4 cups of spiced cranberries from this recipe, enough for many drinks or to give as gifts with tiny bottles of bourbon.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 244Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 27mgCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 1gSugar: 22gProtein: 1g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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